Let the little children come unto…someone with more patience.

Today’s post is an homage to anyone who works with children.

Last Wednesday evening, my Alternative Spring Break team spent about 90 minutes doing after-dinner childcare at Bethany House, an emergency shelter for women and children in Cincinnati.  We do it every year.  It’s always challenging, but this year was aggravated by an unexpected toy donation that arrived just as dinner was ending:  dozens of light-up flying discs.  (The kind where you pull a string on the handle, and the thing goes sailing across the room.)

I don’t know what the (presumably well-intentioned) donors were thinking.  Did they imagine that these kids would be able to play with them in a park or on the beach some moonlit evening?  Did they envision for one moment what a dozen kids in two small basement rooms would do with spinning, careening, light-up toys?  Any preconceived notions my college students had about actually engaging with the children went out the (non-existent) window, as we spent the whole night trying to keep our charges from injuring themselves or one another as they shrieked, ran, and launched the practically-weaponized toys at one another and at us.  Oh, and cried when they broke.  And accused one another of stealing the unbroken ones.  And cried some more.

We experienced a stark contrast the next morning, as we kept company with the kindergarten class at Corryville Catholic Elementary School.  Those kids were just as squirmy and excitable as the ones at the shelter, of course.  But the difference was in the relationship.  We didn’t know the Bethany kids, and they didn’t know anything about us except that they were never going to see us again.  The Corryville teachers, on the other hand, knew the kindergarteners by name, knew their quirks and interests, and had gained their trust, so they were able to personalize their approach to even the crowd-control aspects of education.  We watched twenty-some five year-olds sit cross-legged, hands in laps, and read along with a Dr. Seuss book on the smartboard.  Amazing!

I do not draw this contrast to be critical of Bethany House.  The staff there is busy trying to attend to their residents’ most basic needs—literally, food and shelter—while helping women coming out of chaotic living situations to find some stable ground for themselves and their families.  The temporary nature of emergency shelter rules out the kind of careful attention that a kindergarten classroom allows.

But children desperately need such careful attention.  It’s not my gift (I work with college students for a reason), but I am in awe of anyone who possesses it.  The heroic patience and endless self-giving that good teachers and other childcare workers demonstrate deserves to be praised–and compensated–as the foundational work of tomorrow’s society.

I’m home from Cincinnati now, heading back to work in the morning.  I will resume my meetings, and project work, and to-do lists.  But I will carry the images of those Bethany House children in my heart, praying that, when this rocky transition is complete, they will find themselves in a place where they are seen, known and loved by the many grownups in their lives, just like the little ones at Corryville.


There is another group of children on my mind., this one much closer to home.  On April 7, our Mercy honor society (Sigma Phi Sigma) is throwing a baby shower for new and expectant moms served by Catholic Social Services in Norristown.  We will decorate, and serve food, and make a fuss, and send them off with useful gifts.  If you would like to help, check out this Amazon wish list for things like diapers, wipes, onesies, blankets, etc.  All items will ship straight to Campus Ministry at Gwynedd Mercy University.  Just remember, the shower is on April 7th so we need things ASAP!


If your daily life or chosen work immerses you in the lives of little children, God bless you.  Thank you for everything you do.  I say it every week, but I say it with extreme fervor in your regard:

May each of your ordinary days be extraordinarily blessed!

~ Christine

 

 

 

Finding God in a Flowered Housedress

I do love the story that appears in this chapter of Finding God in Ordinary Time.  I’ve been telling it for years, in the wake of a particularly moving encounter on an Alternative Spring Break experience in Savannah, Georgia in 2009.  Since Gwynedd Mercy’s own ASB teams just started their 2018 adventure, it seemed like a good time to post it.  To them I say:  May each of you find–and remember–your Rose!


Chapter 8:  Finding God in a Flowered Housedress

I have called you by name: you are mine. — Isaiah 43:1

Rose was scary. And she was scared.

She hovered in her bedroom doorway in a flowered, old-lady housedress and ratty slippers, her chopped-off hair looking like it had been styled in an asylum. Eyes full of suspicion, she peered anxiously at the do-gooders who had come to mess up her apartment. But it was that or eviction.

I was the head do-gooder, sent by Rose’s social worker along with four of my students as part of an alternative spring break service experience. The apartment had descended into filth and chaos, we’d been told, since Rose’s “boyfriend” had been transferred into assisted living. The landlord was ready to bounce her, so it was our job to make the place habitable—and not just for the many roaches scurrying through the cabinets.

I was so proud of my students that day. They donned gloves and tackled that awful kitchen with good cheer, emptying cabinets, throwing out contaminated food, and washing every sticky surface. I had the far easier task of organizing the living room: tossing discarded food wrappers, newspapers, and tissues; organizing anything that looked worth keeping; dusting everything I could get my hands on. There weren’t as many roaches to be alarmed by, but there was Rose, watching me with alarm. She didn’t respond to any overtures so I went about my business quietly under her apprehensive gaze.

How is this her life? I found myself wondering. Having been blessed with what I considered a full and meaningful life, overflowing with friends and work, travel and adventures, I was increasingly distressed by the emptiness of this poor woman’s existence.

And then I found it. Hidden among TV Guides and junk mail was a birthday card, the kind you get at a dollar store. I peeked inside. My darling Rose, someone had written, I will always love you. — your Bill

My eyes welled up, and I gently placed the card in a prominent position on her freshly dusted end table. To me she had seemed like a pathetic creature, yet she was someone’s darling Rose. She was a social worker’s challenging case, a landlord’s problem tenant, and our Tuesday project, yet a man named Bill had remembered her birthday and had selected, written, and mailed this card with its tender message.

I do believe that we are all precious in the eyes of God. But I was humbled, that day, to realize that a person I could barely bring myself to look at was precious in the eyes of another human being as well—one who had penned the words we all long to hear.

Who do you find difficult to look at, never mind love? Try to imagine them precious in the eyes of God, and even in the eyes of another human being. What shifts inside you?


May each of your ordinary days be extraordinarily blessed.

– Christine

Next Week:  Finding God in the Cafeteria

Messengers of Grace

Last Thursday I had the privilege of facilitating a retreat for members of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps / Baltimore region.  IVC volunteers are people age “50 or better” (love it!) who serve 1-2 days a week with a partner agency, using their considerable talents to care for individuals who have slipped through society’s safety net.  Their slogan is “Experience Making a Difference,” and I certainly experienced that difference myself in the course of our day together.  What a delightful, engaged and engaging group of people, seasoned enough to offer wisdom, yet beautifully open to new questions.

We spent the afternoon working with Part Two of my book Finding God in Ordinary Time.  Called Messengers of Grace, Part Two presents surprising encounters with strangers as one of the terrains in which we can spot the presence of God, hidden in plain sight.  As you may know, I’ve decided to give faithful blog readers a peek into my book each Sunday in winter Ordinary Time.  So with gratitude to the IVC volunteers whom I no longer call strangers, this week I want to share my introduction to Part Two.


Part Two
Messengers of Grace

People are beautiful, courageous, and inspiring, but we are also messy, complicated, and fallible.

And yet we are dear to God’s heart. In Genesis—the first book of both the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible—we learn that all humanity is created in the image and likeness of God. The Qur’an teaches us that God (Allah) is “nearer to man than his jugular vein.” In Catholic Social Teaching, the dignity of each person is the first principle. Quakers affirm that there is “that of God in everyone.”

Ever wonder why so many religious traditions feel the need to point this out?

I love how my friend John puts it: every person we meet contains a revelation of God.

In Matthew 25, Jesus says that whatever we do for “the least of these,” we do for him. Who are these “least”? If we look at Jesus’ list (people who are hungry, thirsty, naked, or ill, those who are strangers or imprisoned), we will see that he clearly identified with those who are most vulnerable.

Sometimes vulnerability is attractive, and sometimes it is repellant, but it is always a place where, if we cock our heads at a certain angle, we can catch the message God wants us to hear.


Who has been a messenger of grace for you?  Tell us your story in the “Leave a Reply” section below!

May each of your ordinary days be extraordinarily blessed.

– Christine

Next week:  Finding God in a Flowered Housedress